Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Michael R. Gordon's Iran Reporting -- Iraqi WMD Redux?

I just sent this Letter to the Editor of the New York Times.

August 8, 2007

Re: Michael R. Gordon's Iran Reporting -- Iraqi WMD Redux?

Dear Editor,

I was dismayed to read Michael R. Gordon's article, "Iran-Supplied Bomb Is Killing More Troops in Iraq, U.S. Says" (August 8, 2007). Citing Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and unnamed "American military officials," Mr. Gordon and his editors once again allow government officials to use the news pages of the New York Times as a propaganda sheet.

Mr. Gordon's entire article consists of unsupported assertions by military officials that Iran is responsible for the deaths of American soldiers. Once again, readers are forced to ask: Has the New York Times learned nothing from the Judy Miller fiasco? How can Times editors allow its journalists to repeat bellicose government propaganda uncritically, without a trace of skepticism, and without bothering to do the most basic research about the claims made by the government?

With Mr. Gordon's August 8 article, the New York Times once again effectively vouches for the truthfulness of the administration's claims about Iran's complicity in the death of Americans in Iraq -- despite the dubious and widely-disputed nature of those claims, without providing any context for, or doing the most basic research about the likely veracity of, those claims. Instead of skepticism and actual research into the veracity of the government's claims, Mr. Gordon's article simply passes on the claims, barely pausing to introduce such phrases as "according to military officials" and "military officials say."

At one juncture in his article, Mr. Gordon actually asserts that "American intelligence officials have presented evidence that the weapons come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran," without troubling himself to describe the alleged evidence to his readers!

The quality of the New York Times' Iraq coverage, as evidenced by the stenographic work of Mr. Gordon and his editors, is lamentable. It was bad enough that the New York Times failed to function as an independent news organization during the run-up to the Iraq war. But it is absolutely inexcusable that the Times is rushing down this same path once again.



Sunday, May 20, 2007

David Broder Hails Bush and Blair "Courage"

David Broder makes another original contribution to the genre of astoundingly bad punditry in today's Washington Post. His column, titled "Western Allies In the Twilight", is a sentimental tribute to Bush's and Blair's war-like courage. No, really.

Broder writes:
The 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington and the 7/7 London subway and bus bombings shook both Bush and Blair from any sense of complacency and armed both men with a conviction that their preeminent mission was to combat the forces behind those assaults. Both men now believe -- no, are passionately and permanently convinced -- that the terrorist threat from radical Islamists is one that must be resisted at all costs. (Bold mine)
Set aside the "9/11 shook Bush from any sense of complacency" spin, which strikes me as patently absurd. Focus instead on the words Broder uses to describe the not-complacent Bush and Blair: they were "armed" with a conviction that their "preeminent mission" was to "combat" Islamic extremists, who had to be "resisted at all costs".

The "Mission Accomplished" military fantasy world that George W. Bush inhabits? David Broder lives there too. Broder actually appears to regard Bush as some sort of virtuous military action figure.

Here, Broder approvingly quotes Blair:
"It's not about us remaining true to the course that we've set out because of the alliance with America. It is about us remaining steadfast because what we are fighting, the enemy that we are fighting, is an enemy that is aiming its destruction at our way of life and anybody who wants that way of life. And in those circumstances, the harder they fight, the more determined we must be to fight back. If what happens is, the harder they fight, the more our will diminishes, then that's a fight we're going to lose. And this is a fight we can't afford to lose."
This is the kind of moronic wingnut stuff that Bush says all the time. It is moronic in that (1) it makes a carricature of Islamic extremists' goals -- no, their primary aim is not to destroy the American/Western way of life; (2) it vastly exaggerates the threat posed by Islamic extremists -- no, these people do not have the ability to destroy the American way of life; and (3) it assumes that the only alternative to Bush's and Blair's catastrophic policy is to capitulate to the evildoers, convert to Islam and impose sharia law in America. Here is Broder's take on what Blair had to say:
Those are brave words, and a grateful Bush spoke from the heart when he said, "What I know is the world needs courage. And what I know is this good man is a courageous man."
Those are brave words! Which brings us to Broder's conclusion:
History will record that both of them saw the threat to the West posed by terrorism and responded courageously. The wisdom of their policy and the conduct of their governments are not likely to be judged as highly.
Will history "record" that they "saw the threat" and "responded courageously"? It seems to me that history's judgment will be that they thoroughly misjudged the threat and completely bungled the response. But was it a courageous bungle? That seems to be what Broder is suggesting by sounding a skeptical note about the wisdom of the Bush/Blair policy, after having drooled all over Bush/Blair's manliness. Does that make any sense? What exactly was "courageous" about Bush's and Blair's reponse to the threat posed by Islamic extremism?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tom Friedman: Still a Clown on Iraq

Tom Friedman has a column (behind the subscription wall) in today's New York Times, titled Only Halfway There. Here's the central point of Friedman's column, in his own words:
But if Democrats really want to be taken seriously on foreign affairs, they need to recognize that they have only half a policy on Iraq.
I don't know about you, but my jaw just about hit the floor when I read that. Can you think of anyone less entitled "to be taken seriously on foreign affairs," less qualified to be giving foreign policy credibility lessons in the wake of the Iraq debacle, than Thomas Friedman?

But hey, "don't play with matches" is good advice, even when it comes from an arsonist, right? So let's see if Friedman has a point, despite having served as one of the most influential cheerleaders for the disastrous Iraq war and notwithstanding his near-perfect record of total misjudgments concerning Iraq since 9/11.

Here is Friedman's first paragraph, in its entirety:
I’m glad Democrats are keeping the pressure on President Bush for a withdrawal date from Iraq. It’s the only way to keep him and Iraqis focused on the endgame. But if Democrats really want to be taken seriously on foreign affairs, they need to recognize that they have only half a policy on Iraq. And it’s the easy half.
So Democrats need to come up with the "other half" of the Iraq policy in order to be taken seriously on foreign affairs. And what would that be? Friedman purports to answer his question in the following paragraph:
You can’t be in favor of setting a date to withdraw from Iraq without also being in favor of a serious energy policy to radically reduce our dependence on oil — now. To call for withdrawing from Iraq by a set date, no matter what the situation is on the ground there — without a serious energy plan here — is reckless. All we would be doing is making ourselves more dependent on an even more unstable Middle East, because any U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is likely, in the short run, to be destabilizing.
Sorry, but that doesn't make any sense.

First, "being in favor" of a serious energy plan to "radically reduce our dependence on foreign oil" is very different from actually reducing America's dependence on foreign oil in the near-term. The Democrats -- who have just re-taken the House and the Senate and do not control the White House-- don't have the ability to implement a radical change in energy policy in the short term. Can Friedman really not understand this? I am tempted to think that Friedman's emphasis on Democrats "being in favor" of his preferred energy plan is a concession to this reality.

Incredibly, Friedman never makes clear whether he is saying that (1) Democrats cannot credibly advocate withdrawal unless they also advocate Friedman's energy plan, or (2) any credible Iraq plan must make withdrawal contingent on first implementing Friedman's energy plan. But it doesn't really matter, since both arguments are basically absurd, for essentially the same reason.

For either of the arguments Friedman might be making (i.e., (1) or (2)) to make sense, it would have to be the case that staying in Iraq somehow mitigates the effects of lacking Friedman’s preferred energy policy. In other words, not having (or not advocating) Friedman’s preferred energy policy only counts as a reason not to leave Iraq (or not to advocate leaving Iraq) if staying in Iraq somehow compensates for not having (or not advocating) Friedman’s energy policy.

After all, Friedman isn’t just saying “Hey, I have a good idea for a new energy policy.” Rather, he’s saying, “It doesn’t make sense to leave Iraq unless you also implement (or advocate) my ideas for a new energy policy.” But… why? Whether or not Friedman’s ideas about energy policy are good ones, why should accepting them be pre-conditions for leaving Iraq? Here’s the best that Friedman can manage:
All we would be doing is making ourselves more dependent on an even more unstable Middle East, because any U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is likely, in the short run, to be destabilizing.
But how would leaving Iraq make the United States more dependent on Middle East oil? It's almost certainly true that any U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is likely to be destabilizing in the short run. But how does short term destabilization entail increased dependence on foreign oil? Put differently: how is it that staying in Iraq makes the United States less dependent on Middle East oil than it otherwise would be? None of this makes sense.

Thomas Friedman, ladies and gentlemen. Still a clown when it comes to Iraq.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

David Broder: So Dumb it Hurts to Read His Stuff

David Broder has a columm in today's Washington Post titled "A Chance for Unity on Iraq". The title tells you all you need to know about Broder's worldview: Broder thinks the constant goal is "unity," that "partisanship" and "divisive debate" are bad. Broder's take on Bush's Surge plan? Cut out the divisive debate and get with the program!

Broder writes:
The change of command in Iraq offers an opportunity to move past the divisive domestic debate over the deployment of more troops to Baghdad and instead put the pressure where it belongs -- on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
That's Broder for you! While others debate the actual Iraq War debacle, Broder is busy hunting for an opportunity to "move past the divisive domestic debate over the deployment of more troops." "Moving past" the substance of the Surge proposal is a good thing, because it ends "divisive domestic debate". "Divisive domestic debate" is inherently bad, because it is inconsistent with achieving "unity." How do you achieve unity in circumstances where the President is hell-bent on escalating a catastrophic and massively unpopular war that has just been specifically repudiated in an election? Why, just cut out all the divisiveness and support the President's policy!

Here is Broder's argument, in detail: if the Democrats and those Republicans who have abandoned Bush start supporting the Surge plan and Bush's conduct of the Iraq War, then Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki could be threatened with the loss of that support if he doesn't accede to American demands. Got that? Start supporting the War, so we can use the prospect of the loss of that support as leverage against the Iraqi government. Broder writes:
In effect, [General] Petraeus is offering a way to convert the opposition to the war that is growing in both Republican and Democratic ranks into leverage on Maliki. Together, they can hold the prime minister to his pledge to go after all the combatants -- Shiites as well as Sunnis -- and to provide the troops for the fight.
Yes, that's Broder's argument. "Convert the opposition to the war" into "leverage," i.e., convert the opposition to the war into support for the war, which will yield "leverage."

Here is Broder's concluding paragraph:
The challenge is immense, but for a change, there is a chance to get the full weight of our government pulling in the same direction. Congress ought to seize the opportunity.
There you have it. Broder always thinks the goal is to achieve "unity," to have "the full weight of our government pulling [sic] in the same direction." Broder doesn't particularly care what that direction is -- he doesn't care about the actual policies, except to the extent that they present an "opportunity to unite."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it speaks volumes about the state of political punditry in America that a guy as vacuous as David Broder is widely regarded as the "Dean of Washington journalists."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Maureen Dowd's Latest: Vicious Meme Queen Strikes Again

Maureen Dowd's column in today's New York Times, titled "Monkey on a Tiger," is an unbelievably dumb "pox on both their houses" piece about how both Democrats and Republicans just can't help themselves and keep "reverting to type", i.e., Congressional Democrats keep being a bunch of weak, ineffectual, fence-straddling feminist hippies and leading Republicans (Bush, McCain) keep plowing ahead on the Iraq war.

In addition to being characteristically twitty and substance-free, Dowd's column is also an occasion for her to promote vicious memes about Democrats. And that's the nature of Dowd's power, her special gift: even though she plainly isn't knowledgable (or even well-informed) about politics or public policy, she is a very, very talented crafter and promoter of successful memes, or images, about politicians and political parties.

Here's Dowd's opening paragraph:
There was a touch of parody to the giddy Democrat takeover this week: Nancy Pelosi indulging her inner Haight-Ashbury and dipping the Capitol in tie-dye, sashaying around with the Grateful Dead, Wyclef Jean, Carole King, Richard Gere, feminists and a swarm of well-connected urchins.
This is how Dowd portrays Democrats: ridiculous, San Francisco-based, childish, unserious, self-indulgent, beholden to feminists and movie stars and stoners. Needless to say, Dowd's opening paragraph is entirely gratuitous and totally substance-free -- but it sets the stage for any discussion of Democrats by Dowd: first, they must be ridiculed.

After the ritualistic mockery, Dowd makes stuff up in order to promote the idea of Democrats-as-hypocrites:

The first act of House Democrats who promised to govern with bipartisan comity was imperiously banishing Republicans from participating in the initial round of lawmaking. Even if Republicans were brutes during their reign, Democrats should have shown more class, letting the whiny minority party offer some stupid amendments that would lose.
This is pure, unadulterated bullshit. The Democrats did not campaign on a blanket promise to "govern with bipartisan comity." Rather, Pelosi and Congressional Democrats explicitly campaigned on a promise to enact new legislation to "drain the [GOP] swamp" within the first 100 hours after assuming control of the House!

Was Maureen Dowd actually unaware of the Democrats' 100 Hours pledge? Or did she know about it but choose to misrepresent the facts instead, to conform them to the vicious spin she was promoting? And which would be worse, rank incompetence or gross dishonesty? For what it's worth, the Democrats' 100 Hours platform was hardly a secret -- here is an excerpt from an AP article by David Espo published in the Washington Post on October 10, 2006:
WASHINGTON -- Franklin Roosevelt had his first hundred days.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is thinking 100 hours, time enough, she says, to begin to "drain the swamp" after more than a decade of Republican rule.

As in the first 100 hours the House meets after Democrats _ in her fondest wish _ win control in the Nov. 7 midterm elections and Pelosi takes the gavel as the first Madam Speaker in history.

Day One: Put new rules in place to "break the link between lobbyists and legislation."

Day Two: Enact all the recommendations made by the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Time remaining until 100 hours: Raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, maybe in one step. Cut the interest rate on student loans in half. Allow the government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients.

Broaden the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds _ "I hope with a veto-proof majority," she added in an Associated Press interview Thursday.

All the days after that: "Pay as you go," meaning no increasing the deficit, whether the issue is middle class tax relief, health care or some other priority.
To summarize: Maureen Dowd misrepresented the facts -- just invented her own facts -- in order to portray the Democrats' fulfillment of a clearly-articulated campaign promise as hypocritical and lacking in "class." Could Maureen Dowd possibly be a bigger hack?

Here is Dowd's concluding line about Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats:

Perhaps the Democrats’ power-shift into overdrive is a neurological disorder, or neuropolitical disorder.
Now that's rich! Maureen Dowd -- vacuous, vicious and utterly indifferent to the truth -- thinks that the Democrats suffer from some sort of "disorder."